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A Book Suggestion

Posted 8/12/2013

Posted in

  Some Mondays I just don't want to crack down and get to work. This is one of them. If you live near Boston, you know what a glorious weekend we had--perfect New England summer with clear blue skies, temperatures around 80, no humidity. This morning, there is a tinge of fall in the air, and it is still beautiful. And I don't want to be at work. But, here I am, and my pushback is focused on sharing a book recommedation with you instead of a study about the best balance of hormonal therapies or a doctor giving counterfeit chemotherapy (can you imagine?) or survivorship programs.

  Like the reviewer in the New York Times, I am not a comfortable and frequent reader of verse, but I am a longtime fan of David Rakoff. The review is about his last book: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, and made me go right out and buy and read and love it. Even if you don't do that, at least watch the YouTube video that is described at the start of this essay. Here is the beginning and a link:

Novel Approach

There’s an absolutely essential video available on YouTube, of a 2012 segment from NPR’s “This American
Life,” in which the writer and frequent guest David Rakoff walks onstage with his left hand tucked into his
pocket. Rakoff has recently undergone surgery, his “fourth in as many years” for cancer, he explains, and now
possesses a “flail limb.” Aside from “being able to shrug talmudically,” he says, “I can neither move nor feel
my left arm.”
He describes relearning basic chores, including brushing his teeth and grating cheese, then says he once
believed that “if I just buckled down to the great work at hand . . . my best self was just there, right around the
corner.” Now, he insists, “I’m done with all that. I’m done with so many things, like dancing.”
Rakoff danced a lot as a child, “like a straight boy obsessed with baseball, except . . . better.” He took more
serious dance training in college and then in Manhattan, where the classes became “an exercise in
humiliation.” He concludes that this was all “a version of myself that’s long since ceased to exist.”
Then he moves away from the lectern and — to a recording of the aching Irving Berlin ballad “What’ll I Do?”
— he begins to dance. He dances intently, with a precise grace. He’s a superb showman, and he knows that the
moment is both gorgeous and heartbreaking.
Rakoff died three months later, at 47. I’ve watched this video countless times, and I always think, with regard
to life and death and dancing: That’s how it’s done.


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